Â Shirin Vossoughi Vossoughi is a
fourth-year history and international development studies student
who urges you to speak your mind. E-mail her at [email protected].
Click Here for more articles by Shirin Vossoughi
Time to throw the confetti and pop open the bottles of
champagne. Thanks to us, the people of Afghanistan are free. Men
are shaving their beards and women are throwing off their burkas as
democracy and freedom rain from the skies.
Or so they say.
Despite the sudden race to expose the repression of women in
Afghanistan, what remains truly despicable is the use of feminism
to fight a war that is, and will continue to be, harmful to
millions of women.
In a recent radio address to the nation, first lady Laura Bush
called the fight against terrorism “a fight for the rights
and dignity of women” (L.A. Times, Nov. 18). As a means to
help gain international support, President George W. Bush
highlighted the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women as
indicative of “the world the terrorists would like to impose
on the rest of us” (CNN, Nov. 17).
Yet the United States’ interest in the rights of women in
Afghanistan is blatantly insincere. The situation for women was
just as unbearable last May, when the Bush administration patted
the Taliban on the back for banning opium production and handed
over a check for $43 million to the repressive regime.
In fact, as late as 1999, U.S. tax dollars paid the salaries of
every single Taliban government official, despite full knowledge of
their brutality towards women (San Francisco Chronicle, Nov.
A simple glance at the true interests of the U.S. speaks for
itself. In 1998, Unocal signed a $2 billion treaty with the Taliban
for the construction of a natural-gas pipeline. Despite calls by
human rights groups and the New York Times for Unocal to halt
negotiations until the Taliban ended their cruel policies, Unocal
refused to condition its renewal of pipeline efforts on such
Today, under the guise of democracy and women’s rights,
Unocal is a front-runner in the push for a “stable”
government in Afghanistan, one that will be conducive to pipeline
If the United States is serious about protecting the rights of
women, why does it turn a blind eye to oppression in countries we
call our friends? Because on the U.S. priority list, lying right
above women, is something much more worthy of protection: oil.
Â Illustration by JARRETT QUON/Daily Bruin According to a
year 2000 Amnesty International report on oil-rich Saudi Arabia,
“Discrimination against women touches virtually all aspects
of their lives including family life, decision making, employment
and the justice system. It impacts upon and compounds the wide
range of human rights violations currently reported in Saudi
To fully grasp the use of women as pawns in the current
conflict, we must get to know Afghanistan’s new
“freedom fighters.” Although the U.S. has been in bed
with these new-day contras from day one, the portrayal of the
Northern Alliance as a liberating force is deeply misleading.
According to Alex Arriago of Amnesty International, there are more
documented cases of women raped by members of the Northern Alliance
than the Taliban (L.A. Times, Nov. 18).
Just as the U.S. is using the Northern Alliance to destroy the
Taliban, the opposition force is using the U.S. to gain power, all
the while posing as supporters of women’s rights.
But there’s no guarantee that the position of women will
improve under the Northern Alliance. As one Afghan refugee states,
“those opposed to the Northern Alliance are not on the side
of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. We just want our children’s
survival, our women’s survival. If the Northern Alliance
comes, we will all be killed” (Atlanta Journal, Nov. 12).
Despite President Bush’s reductive statement, “You
are either with us or against us,” we must allow for
complexities and push to see the reality of the current situation.
I vehemently oppose the violent subjugation of women by the
Taliban. I refuse to accept, however, the government’s
exploitation of the “women issue.” A struggle as
important as women’s rights is shamelessly being used to
rally support around a war that targets civilians, makes refugees
out of millions of women and supports an opposition that does not
suggest any hope for the betterment of their lives.
There are alternatives to the current military action that would
take real steps in the direction of women’s autonomy and
self-determination. In the short run, the UN must support the
creation of a broad based, democratic government that includes
women and send a peace-keeping force to Afghanistan to prevent the
Northern Alliance’s continued brutality. Human rights
monitors, including experts on women’s rights, should be
immediately deployed throughout the country.
We must also demand that the billions pumped into our military
instead be used to provide clean water, food and access to health
care in war-torn Afghanistan. If we truly believe in women’s
rights, we must use our capabilities to support their health and
well-being, not their further subjugation.
When CNN and the L.A. Times tell heart-wrenching stories about
the treatment of women in Afghanistan, let us take it in and
recognize its validity. We must also recognize, however, the misuse
of this issue as a rallying call for a war that continues to
threaten not only the lives of women, but all the people of